Monday, November 30, 2015

From Fear to Hope

Luke 21:25-36, Advent 1 C, Nov. 29, 2015

When we respond to dangerous situations, we can either respond in fear or hope. For example:

The pastor from Texas responded out of fear, yet the pastor from Rhode Island responded out of hope and love. In our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells us that the world will get worse before it gets better. As we respond to natural and human-made disasters, the world tells us to respond in fear. Yet Christ tells us to respond with love and to live in hope.

Christ calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The entire Old Testament proclaims that we are to care for the orphan, the widow, and the alien (foreigner). So, we have an obligation to care for the Syrian refugees. The world tells us to leave them across the world so that we don't welcome any terrorists. That is a fear response. Christ tells us to welcome them here (trusting our government's vetting system to keep us safe). As Lutherans, we proclaim this together: 
The greatest example of moving from fear to hope is found in this video: 

May we have the bravery of this young child to find the hope in these difficult times.
As Christ has taught us, we will stand tall, respond with love, and live in hope. We can do this because of what Christ has already done for us on the cross. Amen.

The Reign of Christ breaking into our lives

John 18:33-37, Christ the King B, Nov. 22nd.

My sermon began with Al's story:

This story tells of what we think of Christ breaking into our lives - those moments when the Lord's presence is so heavy you can't help but notice it.

Sometimes Christ breaking in is more complicated, like the story of Kelly:

Kelly was executed because the reign of Christ isn't complete yet. The reign of sin and death is still prevalent in this world. We look toward the day when Christ will return, when death will be destroyed for good. We look toward that day with hope and expectation. Amen.

Hannah and Mary

1 Samuel 1-2, 25th Sunday after Pentecost B, November 15, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
It has happened again. Terrorists have struck fear into the hearts of millions as they murdered at least 120 innocent lives in Paris. These extremists carefully chose locations where common citizens would be out enjoying the city. Those murdered were no threat to anyone.

Events like these can seem to be unfathomable. What could bring a group of people to chose to murder so many innocent lives? What could inspire someone to be willing to put on a suicide belt? What horrors must they have faced in their lives to create such horrors in other lives? 

What happened in Paris is a great tragedy. It strikes a bit closer to home because those murdered looked like us. We may not have seen the names and faces of the dead, yet we know that those murdered were out socializing in Paris. So, many most likely were white and moderately wealthy. ISIS intentionally attacked a western nation and threatens more attacks to come. 

The unsettling feeling that this makes in our gut is not dissimilar to what the Israelites experienced during the time of the judges, the time before our first lesson. After the Israelites settled in the Holy Land and before the monarchy was created, the people struggled to stay under control. The book of Judges tells of such atrocities like: 
    • Jael murdering Sisera by nailing a tent peg through his temple
    • Jephthah killing his only daughter as a sacrifice for the Lord
    • A group of men raping and murdering a concubine; then her master cuts her into twelve pieces and sends them across Israel.
After all of these terrible acts, often of violence against or involving women, we then hear the story of Hannah. She is living a comfortable life, happily married. Yet she is barren. Her greatest desire is to have a son. She wants this child not for her own protection or economic support. Instead, she desires a son because she is measured socially by her ability to bear children. Her marriage is not enough - she needs a child.

Hannah needs a child to bring her joy. She may be able to love her step children, but that is not the same as raising her own flesh and blood. Hannah saw how her husband and his other wife drew close as they watched their kids grow from babies to toddlers to children. Hannah wanted to have her own baby to suckle at her breast, her own child to smile at her, her own child to love her so deeply.

When the Lord finally heard her prayers and opened her womb, Hannah somehow knew that this child was destined to greatness. She dedicated her son at the house of the Lord at Shiloh. Her prayer is recorded in chapter two, what we read in place of the psalm. This beautiful poetry proclaims God’s mighty power to overturn the wealthy and lift up the lowly. 

It may seem odd how one little baby can bring so much hope into the world. Can one child really make that much of a difference? Yes. I have seen this in my own family. The Scheibels are a pretty close family. What started as my grandparents, my dad, and his five siblings has grown through the generations to include about 45 aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins. We first cousins were each others’ best friends growing up. Even my mom, who divorced out of the family decades ago, continues to be included in all Scheibel events. 

Then, in 2007, everything changed. Our happy family was struck with tragedy when my cousin J died suddenly. Just 30 years old and days before her wedding, a pulmonary embolism took her life. My family was devastated. J’s mother, my Aunt J, hasn’t truly smiled since then. 

The Christmas after J passed away, we found out that my Uncle G had cancer. He passed away in 2009. If that wasn’t enough, about a year after that, J’s dad, my Uncle C, died suddenly, also from a pulmonary embolism. So, over the course of four years, three of my family members died tragically from natural causes.

Needless to say, family parties were a bit more somber after that. My family needed a reason to hope again. We needed to smile. We needed a child in our midst to bring us joy. In November 2011, my nephew L gave that to us. 

With such a happy baby to pass around, we couldn’t help but smile. As he grew, we rejoiced with his progress. As he began to walk and talk, he brought joy into all our lives, even Aunt J. After grieving for her daughter and her husband, she still doesn’t smile much. But at least now she is not overwhelmed with grief when she sees us happy.

One baby can change family dynamics. One child can bring joy where there was only grief and despair. One little one can make a world of difference. Lukas brought some much needed healing to my family. Yet Hannah’s child did so much more.

Samuel grew up to be an important prophet. After the terrors of the judges, Samuel blessed the first kings of Israel, Saul and David. David would then bring peace to the people, a peace the likes of which they would never experience again. Samuel did not bring peace on his own, yet he pointed towards the peace that would come.

It is fitting that the song that Hannah sang when Samuel was born is very similar to the song that Mary sang when she was pregnant with Jesus. Both of these prayers rejoice in the new life found in babies. Both sing of God’s power to bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly. Both proclaim that God is in charge.

We need to hear Hannah’s song just as much as we need to hear Mary’s song. We need to hear that God will make all things right in the end. We need to hear that only God can judge terrorists just as only God can judge any of us. We need to hear of God’s mighty power. Because when terrorists have the ability to destroy anything or anyone, we desperately need to hear that God is in control. 

When Hannah prayed her prayer, Samuel was still a young baby. She could not have known how Samuel would help to change the history of Israel. Even so, she hoped as she prayed. She trusted in the Lord.

When Mary sang her song, she had not yet given birth to Christ. She could not have fully understood how Jesus would change the world. She knew that Jesus was the child of God, yet even she could not know how Jesus would save the world. Even so, she hoped and she trusted God’s word. 

Samuel brought peace to Israel, and Jesus brought salvation to the world. Yet despite all of this, there is still evil all around us, found this week in terrorists. Despite the life that Jesus gives to us, there is still death all around us, stealing away loved ones. We cannot fully experience the salvation that Jesus gives to us until we too face death. In the meantime, we trust in the Lord. We trust that the Lord is enacting justice. We trust that the Lord is in control of our lives and of the world. Most important, we trust that the Lord will give us life everlasting. Amen.

The metaphors of heaven

Revelation 21:1-6, All Saints Sunday B, November 1, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
My father’s father passed away on my thirteenth birthday. While my father’s grief was still fresh, he had a dream of heaven. He fully believes that this vision came directly from God. 

In this vision, my father saw my grandfather in a dorm room, not unlike where my father stayed at the University of Illinois. Grandpa was sitting near his desk, leaning back in a chair reading. Grandpa was content.

Then Walter Payton, the famous Bears player, walked by. He was wearing street clothes, yet he had a football in his hand. Walter leaned in the open dorm doorway and said, “Jack, do you want to go to the tv room with me and watch some football?” My grandpa hopped out of his chair and went along. 

Not too long later, my dad had another dream which was a continuation of this vision. This time, Grandpa was in the cafeteria. He had a tray of food and turned to look where to sit. He saw Abraham Lincoln eating alone, so my grandfather sat down with him. I can only imagine what sort of conversation they had.

For my grandfather, my father, and me, our years in college were like heaven. Being able to read all day, spend time with friends, and have conversations with important people is what it is all about. Yet, when my father described these visions to me, he made it clear that he did not believe that all of heaven is one dorm or even one college. People have their own ideas of what is the perfect place to be. For my dad, this vision is not a literal description of what heaven is like. 

What this vision did for my father, though, is provide some comfort. Even to this day, my dad looks back on these visions with fondness. He knows that his dad is in a better place. He knows that Grandpa is with God. 

To some degree, I think this is what the book of Revelation is all about. It does not describe literally how the world will end, nor does it describe literally what heaven will be like. Instead, it speaks in coded symbolism. Scholars can interpret some of those symbols based on the text’s original context, yet others remain a mystery. Even so, I’m not sure if deciphering the code is the point. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, I believe that the book of Revelation is meant to provide some degree of comfort.

With all this in mind, I am still curious about what John of Patmos means when he says that he saw “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (v. 1) and that God is “making all things new” (v. 5). This author is speaking truth, even if he is not speaking fact. What does a new heaven and a new earth look like?

One commentator online says that the best way to understand this is to read C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. More specifically, The Last Battle describes the end of the Old Narnia and the beginning of New Narnia. Just like Revelation and my Dad’s vision, C. S. Lewis is using metaphor to describe what heaven will be like. Because he wrote a fictional novel, he had more freedom to express his ideas in beautiful, figurative language. Even though Lewis is describing the end of a made up world full of talking animals, his descriptions are spot on. Replace “Narnia” with “Earth” and you get the point.

Lewis describes a severe scene in Old Narnia. A monkey dressed up a donkey in a lion’s skin and tried to pass him off as Aslan, the Jesus figure in these tales. This leads to an epic battle between the true Narnians and the Calormenes who worship an idol. The last king of Narnia left the battle’s end as he saw a mysterious door and walked through it. As he entered New Narnia, he met all of the good kings who had died before him. All of these people were mysteriously ageless, no matter if they died young or old.

Then Aslan appeared in the doorway and called all of creation from Old Narnia to him. He judged these creatures one at a time, although it seemed to not last very long. Aslan sent the wicked into eternal darkness and invited the good through the doorway. Once everyone welcome into New Narnia had entered, King Peter closed the mysterious doorway and took out the key. Old Narnia was gone, and it was time for them all to experience New Narnia. “Come further in! Come further up!” (p. 181) Aslan bellowed.

As the characters moved in and looked around, they marveled at how much everything was so much like Old Narnia while also being so different. The colors were brighter and deeper. The mountain range looked further away and yet…somehow… “more like the real thing.” (p. 193) The land that they had previously experienced was only a shadow of the real dream where they were now.

One of the characters exclaimed, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the Old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this…Come further up, come further in!” (p. 196) 

Then everyone began to run. They felt the rush of air and the joy of moving, yet they never became out of breath or sore. They realized that they could not feel afraid, nor angry, nor sad. They found all of the beloved people and creatures they had met on their previous journeys. This New Narnia truly was heaven, and their new journey had just begun!

We may not know exactly what a new heaven and a new earth will be like, yet we can hope. We can hope that it will be just as exhilarating as C. S. Lewis describes. Maybe everything will be like it was, but richer, deeper, and brighter. No matter what, at the time that we experience heaven, it will be more of everything good because we will be with God. Surrounded by God's love like we have never experienced before, it must be worth it. We hope for the future because of God's promises! Amen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Blind Bart and the Luther Rose

Julie Monnard, Zion Lutheran Church
Mark 10:46-52, Reformation Sunday B, October 25, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

In Seminary, I studied this text about blind Bartimaeus for a final project. In addition to the paper, I also had to create some sort of integrative project. I knew that crocheting would take too long, so I decided to paint my learning. 

When Bart cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" he was using loaded terms. By calling Jesus "Son of David," he was confessing that he believed all that was told about him in the Old Testament. More specifically, he may have been referencing Psalm 110:1 which is quoted in Mark 12. So, that is what I painted in the speech bubble.

Now, here's the truth: I am not proud of this painting. I wasn't then and I am not now. I don't even want to hang this up in the privacy of my own home.
Where's Jesus
A wise pastor friend once taught me that once a canvas has served its purpose, it is time to wipe it clean and start fresh. Some art is not meant to last forever! So, this past week, I did just that. I took this bad painting of blind Bart, painted it white, and started fresh.

As I considered what to paint, I thought about blind Bart's confession of faith. If I had to visually confess my faith, what would I use? Well, on this Reformation Day, of course I would use a Luther Rose. Luther put some careful thought into this symbol, and I still stand behind all that it represents. The background is the liturgical calendar. 

Now, I'm still a bad painter. I had more fun figuring out the math of how to get each of the 52 wedges the same size than I did painting it in. I even had to trace the Rose and the Heart! 
This represents for me the cycles of faith and how I experience God in the Lutheran tradition. 
If you had to represent your faith in visual terms, what would you create?

Of camels and needles

Mark 10:17-31, 20th Sunday after Pentecost B, October 11, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

If you don’t feel convicted after listening to this lesson, then you weren’t paying attention. Jesus is speaking some hard words directly to us. Because, let’s be honest, even if you are struggling financially, you are still richer than most of those in this world. Jesus is telling us to sell everything that makes us comfortable and give the money to the poor. 

It is impossible for a rich person to enter heaven just as it is impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. This statement has made people so uncomfortable over the ages that scholars, pastors, and lay people alike have explained it away. Some have spiritualized it by saying that we don’t really need to sell our possessions. Instead, we need to purge our bad thoughts! When we make this about what goes on inside the individual, then we can easily ignore our homeless brothers and sisters.

Others turned away from spiritualizing the comment. Instead, they want to find a way to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Jesus is using a metaphor to make a statement, so why not make either the camel or the needle metaphorical? For example, some Christians built a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem and called it the eye of a needle. A camel could get through this gate if it was stripped of the loads of stuff it was carrying. Therefore, we don’t need to get rid of all our wealth, just that which is a burden.

More recently, I found a political cartoon on a Google image search which quotes this verse. It shows a camel stuck halfway through a very large needle. A rich man in a top hat watching this distressed camel says, “It’s simple. We’ll buy a bigger needle!” He is hoping to buy his way out of this metaphor and thus completely subverts the point!

Of course, there is the artist who created camels so small that not one but nine camels fit into the eye of a sewing needle. For centuries, rich people have tried to prove Jesus wrong. With each of these examples, it is like we are saying, “Look Jesus! A camel can fit through the eye of a needle. Can I enter heaven now?” I can only imagine Jesus facepalming. 

We don’t get it! Jesus is telling us that it is impossible for us to enter heaven by our own good will. We can’t buy our way into heaven, although the rich man certainly wanted to. Did you notice that in his question? He said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” First, he is asking what he can do, implying that he has any authority to earn his way in. Essentially, he thinks God has some massive spreadsheet where God keeps track of everyone’s good and bad deeds. Jesus shows us this isn’t true. 

The second part of the question is specifically about money. The rich man asks about inheriting eternal life. Here, he is referencing the fact that landowners often became wealthy by exploiting the nearby poor landowners. When the poor couldn’t pay back loans tot he wealthy, then the rich could take the poor’s property. It was a way to “inherit” without being a next of kin. This rich man doesn’t just want to earn his way into eternal life, but he wants to buy his way in. How is Jesus supposed to respond to a question that is so off key?

Knowing that this man isn’t ready to hear the truth right away, he eases him in by talking through the commandments. Notice, Jesus never directly states that following the commandments is a prerequisite into eternal life. But they are a way to get closer to God. By following God’s law, this rich man is closer to accepting the good news Jesus has to give.

There is one more step! Clearly, this rich man is relying on his wealth instead of God to get him through life. So, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give the money to those in need. That would enable this man to take his focus off himself and put it on another. This is not good news for the rich man, so he went away grieving. He couldn’t bear to stay any longer! He left before he heard the whole story.

I think it is important to note why Jesus said this. Last week, the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus, so Jesus responded truthfully but harshly. Here, the text says that Jesus loved the rich man. The rich man isn’t trying to trick Jesus; instead he is asking an honest question. Jesus is trying to carefully point this man in the right direction. When he puts his trust in God instead of wealth, then he will be ready to hear the good news. 

When we hear this passage, we often respond either like the people of old who explained away the tough message here, or we also walk away sad and unwilling to hand over our wealth. But not everyone. 

Shane Claiborne is the author of The Irresistible Revolution. In it, he tells of his journey to Calcutta to spend a summer with Mother Teresa. He spent that time helping the sick and homeless have a little dignity in their desperation. He wasn’t the only one serving there, though. He wrote of a man named Andy who worked with him. Shane learned that he used to be a wealthy German businessman until he became a Christian. He took Jesus’ words quite literally. He sold all of his possessions and gave much of it to the poor. Having offered his money to the poor, now he is offering his time and talents. This man made a commitment to the Lord when he agreed to live and work in Calcutta. 

Another example of this was shared at the Why Christian? Conference. Tiffany Thomas is a Baptist pastor in Charlotte, NC. Although she once was on staff at a wealthy congregation, she now serves two poor congregations. Her members live in systemic poverty and face crisis after crisis. Their lives are a mess, yet they always come on Sunday. They need to hear the good news. Offerings at one congregation are only about $200 a week. 

One fall, a local newspaper was interviewing Tiffany. She was talking about the homeless in her neighborhood when she blurted out that her church would be open every night the temperature got below 20. She hadn’t passed that by anybody in her church. She had no plan for how to staff her church to care for these homeless.

Then her janitor stepped up. That entire winter, he slept at the church and let in any homeless who needed a warm place to sleep. That janitor sacrificed so much for the poor.

These are extreme examples, yet I hope you might be inspired to do something extraordinary to follow Jesus’ teaching. Yet even selling everything and giving your money to the poor won’t earn you a place in heaven. Following the commandments won’t earn you eternal life. Even baptism isn’t a free ticket.

So what is Jesus’ good news? He says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”(v. 27) There is nothing that we can do to earn our way into heaven. Nothing. Eternal life is beyond our reach on our own. The good news is that God gifts us with eternal life. God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, brings us into eternal life. No amount of money, brownie points, or prerequisites can get us there. Only God.

This is the good news. There is nothing that we can do to earn eternal. That is a gift, a gift that we do not deserve, yet a gift that we willingly receive. All that we do is a way to return thanks to God for all that Jesus has done for us. We serve the Lord cheerfully for the grace that Jesus gives to us. Amen.

Divorce wasn't part of God's plan

Mark 10:2-16, 19th Sunday after Pentecost B, October 4, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

I recently read the young adult novel Divergent by Veronica Roth. The main character, Tris, took a test as a teenager to determine what faction she would live in for the rest of her life. The leaders of her city wanted her to fit neatly into their box, yet she didn’t. Her test results showed that she could have fit into multiple factions, marking her Divergent. 

Each time that someone asked her about her test results, she answered truthfully yet differently. When her brother asked right after the test, she said that she wasn’t allowed to talk about it - which is true. Later, after she moved to another faction, her mother found her and asked her test results. Then she said that her results were inconclusive (meaning Divergent), which is true. Towards the end of the book, when the woman hunting Divergents asked of her test results, she said that her result was for her home faction, which is what was manually recorded.

Each time, Tris answered truthfully yet differently. I think that is what Jesus is doing here. The Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus - they want to figure out which faction of Jews he fits into. Jesus can see through their question about divorce, and he answers in a way that does not fit him into a box. Instead of answering directly whether divorce is legal or not, Jesus turns the question on its head. 

Jesus takes a question that is about law and makes it about relationships. Jesus does not state whether a certificate of divorce is legal or not. He does state that God’s original plan was for man and woman to be together forever. Divorce was not part of God’s plan, neither was adultery or homosexuality.

But sin entered the world, so now divorce is a sad reality. The sins that we commit break relationships apart. They separate us from God, and sometimes they force husbands and wives to separate too. Divorce is a sad reality, yet Jesus reminds us of the love that God has for us, from the beginning of creation to today...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Finding Good Christian Resources

When I was learning how to preach in seminary, my professor encouraged us to ask ourselves the question, “Did Jesus have to die for this sermon to be preached?” That means, “Did I proclaim Christ crucified in my sermon? Was my preaching reflective of the theology of the cross?”

These are good questions for us to ask of sermons, yet they also are important to ask when looking for Christian materials. If you are looking for something to read, watch, or listen to that reflects your Lutheran Christian beliefs, you face a steep challenge.

There are Christian resources all over the place, yet most do not reflect our specific beliefs about Christ. Walking through the Christian Family Bookstore or looking at, you will most likely find a lot of evangelical resources. Instead of proclaiming that ONLY CHRIST can save us, many of these other resources say that we can influence our own salvation. Instead of upholding the Bible and the Sacraments as the best ways to experience God, these proclaim personal revelations. Instead of encouraging communal experiences of faith, these almost always emphasize personal relationships.

So, here are some suggestions that I have for finding good Lutheran (or at least mainline) Christian resources:
  • Check out resources from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America:
  • Borrow from Pastor Julie’s personal library. As long as I know what you have borrowed, you are welcome to borrow anything. Beware, I love to write in my books! Here are some of my favorite authors:
    • Nadia Bolz-Weber. She preaches the gospel in a fresh yet authentically Lutheran way.
    • Rachel Held Evans. She is an Evangelical turned Episcopal; she writes in a light tone as she describes her faith struggles.
    • Rob Bell - A speaker and writer, he has a beautifully simple way of writing about faith.
    • Barbara Brown Taylor - She describes finding faith outside as well as inside the church.
    • Frederick Buechner - He is a theologian and a writer; his prose is poetic in its detail.
    • C. S. Lewis - The author of The Chronicles of Narnia, he also has many Christian books for adults.
    • Henri Nouwen - His simple, short books are pieces of art.
  • To be honest, I am not inspired by most specifically Christian movies available. I find that they do not have the depth of content as more mainstream movies. There are plenty of movies out that have great messages, even if they don't talk about God.
  • I also don't listen to Christian radio. I love storytelling podcasts, including:
There is plenty of other excellent content out there that I haven't seen yet. Let me know what you enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Esther and Why Christian?

Esther, 18th Sunday after Pentecost B, September 26, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Esther is a bold woman of faith. She literally saved the lives of her people, standing up for them when no one else could. She used her political position as Queen of Persia to convince the king that Haman did wrong. Esther is a role model.
Not only were her actions dangerous and honorable, but her words were as well. There are few women in scripture who have more words recorded than Esther. Even the fact that the book is named after her is extraordinary.
Few women throughout religious history have risen to such high esteem. Yet few Jewish or Christian women have become queen without revealing their identity. Esther is a rare case, yet it is the ordinary women who face such large obstacles who are more noteworthy. Most women do not have the power of Queen Esther, yet they also break secular systems to enact justice.
It is stories like these that I heard about last week at the Why Christian? conference. I went because it was hosted by two of my most favorite Christian public figures, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans. Yet it was the eleven other speakers who took my breath away. These speakers were vulnerable as they told their stories. They wove their past struggles with deeply held beliefs about God.
These female speakers gave a voice to gay, transgender, black, Asian, and Indian Christians. Most were clergy of various traditions, and a few were laity. Each shared bold stories of faith. Many of them faced situations that were just as life threatening as Queen Esther. Many felt like foreigners in their own churches.
What was so powerful for me was to hear their stories firsthand. I could not do justice to their stories telling them secondhand, so I won’t. At least not yet. Instead, I think it is more important that I respond to the same question that they answered. Which is,
“Why Christian? Why, in the wake of centuries of corruption, hypocrisy, crusades, televangelists, and puppet ministries do we continue to follow Jesus? Why, amidst all the challenges and disappointments, do we still have skin in the game?”
This question is intentionally not, “Why Jesus?” The question is not why do we intellectually believe in God. The question is why we choose to have a relationship with Jesus and the church. Why do we continue to live in Christian community even if the possibility of getting hurt is great?
Well, for me, I haven’t been hurt too much by the church. Yes, I thought I might have to leave my internship site because of problem makers. And yes, I have faced other difficult people in other churches. But the fact of the matter is that I have never been turned away from the church.
Nobody has ever told me that I can't be a pastor because I am a woman. Sure, my young age has been a challenge at times, but you have all grown to respect me. 
So, why do I need the church? Because the church and her institutions are where I get inspired. Nature is nice, but that is not where I experience God. Sometimes, even worship is not where I get inspired. It is the classroom. 
I have been a Lutheran my whole life, but I didn’t learn to love the Bible until college. I didn’t learn to love liturgy until seminary. As each inspiration happens, my challenge is to take the old and make it new. I must take Bible passages, understand them in their original context, and then relate them to our modern lives. 
I am often amazed at how Jesus’ words, though 2,000 years old, still are as countercultural today as they were then. I love studying Old Testament women like Esther and celebrate how they break cultural stereotypes. I also grieve that so many women in the Old Testament are victims of violence.
Even the basic structure of our liturgy goes back to the beginning of the church. Since the beginning of Christianity, worship has used Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending as the pattern. Yet my challenge is to take these ancient words and make them relevant to you. 
You know that I enjoy taking old things and reviving them for a new generation. I do this with tatting. I take hundred year old patterns, use bright thread and add some beads. Then old boring edgings become vibrant jewelry. Recreating brings me joy, be it with scripture, liturgy, or tatting.
I may not feel like I need Jesus as much as the Why Christian? speakers do, but the fact of the matter is that I want God. I want the Old Testament stories to ring truth today. I want to follow Jesus' teaching. I want to feel God's presence in the classroom and in the sanctuary. I want it all enough that eventually, I do need it to be true. I don't need to have a dark, convoluted past to need Christ. 
This is a messy world that we live in. We are surrounded by violence, hatred, and despair. We see it in the news and on the streets. We hear of family suffering from cancer and fighting losing battles. We know friends struggling with financial crises. With so much to bring us down, only Christ can bring us up.

Only Christ can give us hope that there is something more to look forward to after this life. Only Christ could offer himself to die to show us how to live. Only Christ could love those rejected by society. Only Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Take up your cross!

Mark 8:27-38, 16th Sunday after Pentecost B, September 13, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Consider Ashley. Ashley comes from a wealthy household. She gets everything she wants and she flaunts it around her high school. To be honest, Ashley is a brat. No matter how many times she attended youth group with her clique, she did not understand what “taking up her cross” should look like. She figured that wearing her diamond studded cross necklace was enough. At school, she still put down her poorer friends. 

Next, look at Jerry. Jerry is a middle-aged white man. He has worked hard his entire life to earn his living. When Jerry hears people proclaim, “Black lives matter,” he doesn’t understand how his white privilege has helped him along the way. His church never talks about racism, so he figures that “taking up his cross” means to remain in a place of power while he helps others.

Finally, there is Anna. Anna is an older woman who honestly is tired. While raising her family, Anna dutifully brought her kids to church. After they left the house, she didn’t have much time before her husband fell ill. She cared for him until he died. Now, Anna is ready to be the one receiving care. She “took up her cross” when she was younger, yet now she has no energy to do so. Although only in her early seventies, Anna is “done.”

When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him, he warns us that there will be consequences. Being Christian is not the popular thing to do. Following Christ is not the easy thing to do - or at least it isn’t when done right. Sometimes we forget how counter cultural Christ’s message was and is.

Just as Peter does in the gospel lesson, too often we set our minds on human things instead of divine things. We get caught up in wealth, or privilege, or our families so that our lives no longer focus on Christ. Even if we attend church every week, we don’t actually take up our crosses unless we bring Christ into the world.

Doing this isn’t always fun or easy, yet it is what Jesus calls us to do. Jesus calls us to reject the world and let the world reject us. Our Christian ethics will never be popular because Jesus tells us to value every human being as an equal, no matter if they are rich or poor, straight or gay, white or black. 

Jesus shows us how to love them - by eating with them, by healing them, by bringing them back into community. Jesus loved the least among us by showing them how great they really are. We can only do this when Christ is the center of our lives. We must let the ethics of the world pass away so that Christ’s love can shine through.

Jesus tells us that “those who lose their life for my sake…will save it.” (Mark 8:35 NRSV) Essentially, Jesus is encouraging his followers to face persecution with bravery. Christians are not facing persecution in America. Some like Kim Davis may think that they can discriminate against others in the name of Jesus, but this is not so! For Jesus cared for all who were ostracized from the world. Discrimination is not the cross that we bear. 

Instead, we together as the ELCA stand up for those who are deemed “less” by our society. We stand with blacks, gays, and the poor. We advocate for them and with them. We learn who they truly are so that they no longer are the “other.” That is the cross that we bear. So how can we help our fellow Christians truly to take up their cross and follow Jesus?

We can approach youth like Ashley and show her how deeply her words can hurt others. We can help her understand how her poor classmates live and the struggles that they face. Maybe Ashley could be inspired to have a drive for jeans at her school. By donating of her wealth and time, Ashley could take up her cross.

We also can talk to people like Jerry. We can bring him into a nearby black community to listen. He can hear stories of how many extra roadblocks black men must surpass before they can be as successful as Jerry. By listening, Jerry can better understand. Then, he and his church could partner with a black church to ensure that their kids don’t grow up segregated. In that way, Jerry is taking up his cross. 

Finally, there are many “Annas” in this congregation and in every congregation. Those who tire of ministry at a young age may not realize that no age is too old to take up your cross. You are never too old to try something new or take a risk. What you do in this place and in the community may change, yet Christ always needs you to serve the church and each other. 

With such risks and challenges in place, why would we be so willing to take up our crosses? Because of who Jesus is. Peter accurately proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. 
Jesus is more than just a prophet. Jesus most certainly is not John the Baptist or Elijah. They were special men, yet they were only human. Jesus is also fully God. Jesus is the savior of the world.

But Jesus was not the grand triumphant king that the Jews expected. Jesus was not some superhero flying in to save the day. Instead, Jesus was - and is - the suffering servant that we hear about in Isaiah. Jesus tells his disciples here that he would undergo suffering, be rejected by all Jewish authority, and then be killed. Jesus would experience physical pain, humiliation, and despair before finally giving up his life.

Then the Lord would bring Jesus back to life on the third day. And so, just as Jesus predicted, this is what happened. This is who Jesus is - our savior who gave up his own life and then rose again so that we can experience a resurrection just like his.

We see glimpses of this resurrection when Christ enables us to lift up the lowly, the downtrodden, and the rejected. This is the cross that Jesus calls us to take up. When we help others, we truly are following Jesus. Amen.

Meaningless or Important?

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, 14th Sunday after Pentecost B, August 30, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

You have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” My cousin D, who is in his mid thirties, learned this the hard way this week. While at a ball game, he ate two corn dogs, garlic fries, pork nachos, a hot dog, and a hot chocolate. The next morning, on Facebook he wrote, “it’s interesting: you eat a lot of [junk] food, and then you feel like [junk]. D learned that he can no longer eat like a teenager.
That is a sad reality that most people learn in their thirties. You are what you eat. When you eat healthy food, you feel good. When you eat unhealthy food, you feel bad. But the point of the matter is this: what you eat only impacts you. Well, if you ate a whole Magic Mountain, maybe the people around you might feel a bit uncomfortable too.
For the most part, personal decisions about food only impact the person eating the food. Jesus says, “There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.” (Mark 7:15 NET)
He goes on to say that it is our evil words and deeds that do the most damage. I think a major reason for this is that your words and deeds impact others. You can make a person’s day by saying something nice, yet you can ruin a person’s day by saying something cruel. A corn dog might give you an upset stomach, yet a degrading comment can give someone else an upset heart. 
Here, Jesus is setting priorities. The Jews back then- and even some today - followed strict laws regarding food preparation and consumption. Many foods, like pork and shellfish, were off limits. Others, like dairy and meat, were not allowed to be eaten together. This is why a bacon cheeseburger is the ultimate dietary sin.
A young Jewish man named Moshe recently told his story of this on the Moth podcast. He describes his childhood in an ultra orthodox Jewish community as being like Amish but with electricity. He wasn’t able to read secular books, watch tv, or eat non-Kosher food. His rabbis threatened that the Lord would directly punish him if he disobeyed any of these rules. Because then he would know that the Lord is God. So everyday, Moshe would look over his shoulder wondering if the Lord would smite him.
When he was fifteen, he began to question his orthodox Jewish upbringing, and his parents were going through a rough divorce. So Moshe decided to leave the fold. He went to Long Island to spend some time with his aunt and his brother. But Moshe had only known his orthodox Jewish community, so he wasn’t ready quite yet to break all of his childhood habits. 
When it came time for dinner, Moshe wanted to eat Kosher food, but his aunt’s kitchen was filled with only secular food. So, they hopped into the car and drove around Long Island looking for Kosher restaurants, but they all were closed. Then Moshe suggested getting a Kosher frozen pizza, but even those weren’t available. 
Moshe secretly wanted something not Kosher, but he was too afraid to admit it. Then he came up with a solution: if he didn’t know that it wasn’t Kosher, then maybe he could eat it. So, his aunt went into a pizza place to get him a slice of mushroom pizza. Moshe stayed in the car. The entire time that she was in the pizza shop, Moshe was afraid that the Lord would smite her. He was afraid that his pizza slice would be cut with a knife that had touched pork. He was afraid that something would go wrong.
Then his aunt came out of the shop just fine. They went back to his aunt’s home, and he greatly enjoyed that slice of mushroom pizza. He wouldn’t admit it out loud because he was still afraid that the Lord would smite him.
Moshe never returned to the orthodox Jewish community. He learned that he could still be faithful without following every dietary law. Because he could love the Lord while eating a slice of pizza. 
These laws were created for many reasons, one of which was to separate the Jews from their foreign neighbors. During the exile, when the Jews were trying to find out how they could still worship the Lord in a foreign place, they turned to these dietary laws to set them apart from their Gentile neighbors.
In Jesus’ time, this separation from community was no longer necessary. From Jesus’ perspective, dietary restrictions including the washing of hands was adiaphora - or not relevant to salvation. There is nothing wrong with washing hands before a meal - in fact that is good hygiene! We wash our hands today not because God commands us to but because it is common sense.
The Pharisees questioning Jesus were following the letter of the law without considering the spirit of the law. Jews were blindly following dietary restrictions without having their hearts set on God. And that is where Jesus found the problem. What is the point of washing your hands before dinner if you are going to proceed to bully your dining companions?
Jesus reminds us that our words can hurt people more than they will ever share. Our offhand comments can cut deep. Our neglect of others can be the most dangerous. 
So, what can we do? We can help the people of Nepal through our noisy can offering. We can love our neighbors in word and deed. We can feed the hungry through the Salvation Army dinner. We can clothe the naked through donations. We can encourage Princeton’s firefighters and police this Rally Day. We can do the work of God. 
We can do this, not because Jesus commands us to but because Jesus enables us to. We can do this because Jesus gives us the inspiration, the strength, and the encouragement to do so. Thanks be to God! Amen. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Bible Telling of 1 Kings 5-9

After Solomon became King of Israel, the Lord gave him rest from his enemies. During this time of peace, Solomon built the Temple. He gathered a large workforce from Israel to quarry stone and gather other supplies. Solomon also imported cedar from a friend of the late King David. 

When the Temple was complete, it was a sight to see. The inner walls, floors, and even the ceilings were lined with cedar. Each surface was ornately carved with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. All of the vessels and furnishings were made of pure gold. The Holy of Holies - that inner room where the ark of the covenant would reside - was lined with pure gold. Solomon’s men worked for seven years to complete the Temple.

In time, Solomon gathered all of the leaders of Israel to Jerusalem to dedicate the Temple. Solomon created a grand procession from the Tent of Meeting - where the ark of the covenant was - to the Temple. Priests carried all of the vessels and furnishings from within the tent, the tent itself, and the ark of the covenant. All along the way, priests sacrificed oxen and sheep to the Lord. So many animals were sacrificed that they could not be counted. 

The priests placed the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. As they were leaving the Temple, the entire building filled with thick smoke. This was the glory of the Lord residing in that place. 
Solomon addressed the leaders of Israel. He proclaimed that he completed what his father had started. Solomon fulfilled the prophecy made to David that he would build the Temple.

Then Solomon turned to face the altar and raised his hands to heaven. He prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no other God like you. You have kept your promises that you have made with your people, including the promise of this Temple. May you always keep a descendant of David on the throne.

“This Temple cannot contain you! May you listen to the prayers of your servants in this place. When people come here to confess their sins and make amends, may you judge them appropriately. When your people are suffering under foreign enemies, from drought, or from plague, may you heed their prayers and bring them relief. When you respond to prayer, your people will fear you.

“With this Temple, your name will become great even beyond your chosen people. When these foreigners come to pray at your house, listen to their prayers. Show them your might so that all people across the world will know and fear you.”

Then Solomon turned once again to the people and said, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people as he promised. Every promise made to Moses and our ancestors has come to pass. O Lord our God, continue to be with us and lead us to follow all the commandments.”

Solomon proceeded to offer more sacrifices to the Lord, including thousands of oxen and sheep. He also offered grain, fat, and burnt offerings. Then the people feasted and celebrated for seven days.

On the eighth day, Solomon sent the people to their homes. Some time later, the Lord appeared to Solomon saying, “I have heard your prayers. I have consecrated the house you built for me. My eyes and heart dwell in the Temple. If you stray from me and no longer follow my statutes, I will destroy the Temple so that foreigners will mock you. But if you remain upright and follow my commandments, I will keep David’s line on the throne. 

Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The bread of transformation

John 6:51-58, 12th Sunday after Pentecost B, August 16, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Ms. Giovanazzi’s fifth grade class was learning about the Civil War. As a final project, she assigned the class together to create a living history demonstration. Each group of students was assigned an aspect of the war - from how they camped in the field to how they created hospitals. Each student was expected to make a Civil War uniform to dress the part. Then parents and younger siblings would be able to walk through the demos.

My group demonstrated what Civil War soldiers ate while in their encampment. My job specifically was to make hardtack, those bland crackers that seem to last forever. So, the night before my presentation, my father and I pulled out some baking supplies. We gathered a bowl, a sheet tray, a rolling pin, and flour. 

In the bowl, we mixed lots of flour with just a small amount of water to make the dough. That was it: no oil, no salt, no eggs; just flour and water. Then we rolled it out, divided it into biscuits, and baked it until it was truly hard. That was some bland bread. 

And that is about the extent of my bread baking experience. Sure, I have made unleavened communion bread before, and I certainly have made my share of cookies and other baked goods. Yet I have never made leavened bread. I always have feared making leavened bread because it looks so complicated and time consuming. The dough needs to be kept in a place that is warm but not too warm and left for a time that is long but not too long.

I recently listened to a TED Talk where the baker Peter Reinhart described the bread making process in twelve steps. Twelve steps that take hours - if not days - to complete. No wonder bread making sounds so complicated! 

The TED speaker reminded me of one more reason why making leavened bread scares me - because it is alive. Bread dough is literally alive, or at least the yeast is. As the yeast burps and sweats, the dough rises. As the dough proofs, it proves that it is in fact alive. Then, when the bread is put into the oven, the yeast dies. 

That is the crazy thing about bread. It goes from living to dead to living to dead to giving life. With the process of creating bread, we find the perfect metaphor for Christ. Peter Reinhart divides bread making into three transformations. 

First, from alive to dead. Bread begins as living wheat flourishing in the field. Yet the wheat must be harvested, or killed, before its seeds can be crushed into flour. 

In his TED Talk, Peter said, “And at that point, the wheat has suffered the ultimate indignity. It's not only been killed, but it's been denied any potential for creating future life.” The wheat cannot produce more wheat, yet it has become flour.

So also, Jesus begins his ministry alive and well flourishing in Israel. His teaching, preaching, and healing are important, yet before he can become the true living bread, he must be killed and his body crushed. Unlike the wheat, though, Jesus’ potential for future life does not die when he breathes his last.

The second transformation is from dead to alive. The flour is dead wheat, yet when yeast is mixed in, the dough becomes alive again. The proof is when the dough rises. All of those “yeast burps, sweats, and starch guts” show how alive the dough really is. 

Peter Reinhart said, “[The word] Leaven comes from the root word that means enliven -- to vivify, to bring to life… And we know it's alive because… it grows. Growth is the proof of life.” While the dough is growing, it is transforming more. The enzymes produce sugar; the yeast turns the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol; and the bacteria turns sugar into acid. 

So also, Jesus becomes alive again after dying on the cross. After three days, the Lord raised Jesus from the dead. And, just as the living dough is much different from the living wheat, Jesus is different now too. Jesus’ body has changed. Now resurrected and on earth, Jesus can walk through walls yet still eat fish. Jesus now can do things and know things that he couldn’t before.

Third, the living dough is transformed into dead bread. In the oven, the yeast dies when it reaches 140 degrees. The yeast must die before the bread can be complete. Peter Reinhart said, “The yeast, whose mission it has been up till now to raise the dough, to enliven it, to vivify it, in order to complete its mission, [it] has to give up its life.”

Yet it is the finished bread, with the wheat and the yeast dead, that is finally food. The bread is what sustains people until the next meal. Wheat or yeast alone could not do this.
Jesus does not die again like the bread does. Jesus is changed once more, though. Jesus is reunited with the Lord in heaven now that his mission on earth is complete. Jesus is not dead, yet he also is no longer physically with us.

The Lord has transformed Jesus from life to death, from death to new life, and finally from new life to everlasting life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) 

All of the bread that we can make in the world, including that hardtack from the Civil War, is dead. The wheat is ground into flour, and the yeast is killed in the oven. Even the manna in the wilderness was dead. But Jesus is the living bread. Not even death itself can kill Jesus. 

Now Jesus is offering this living bread to us. Not just in communion, but in every way, Jesus offers his flesh to give us life everlasting. Jesus offers his flesh and blood as real food and drink, but not physical food and drink. Hardtack may be able to survive for years if stored properly, but only Jesus the living bread can survive forever. 

With Jesus’ flesh and blood, we never need to hunger for God again. We experience this food and drink not just in communion but also when Jesus abides in us. Jesus is with us, sustaining us through our deepest darkness and encouraging us through our greatest joys. 

Living bread is the best metaphor to understand who Jesus is and what he gives to us. Yet Jesus himself is the best gift of all. After all of this bread talk, aren’t you hungry for communion? Amen.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Good out of Evil

1 Samuel 8, 11, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost B, June 7, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Personally, I cannot believe that our Lord deliberately causes tragedies. After attending Tori Vogel’s visitation and funeral, I cannot believe that the Lord intentionally brought about her death. The scriptures tell us that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Tori was an innocent fourteen year old. The Lord had no reason to take her life. I do not believe that the Lord directly causes tragedies.
Instead, I believe that we humans bring some tragedies on ourselves through our faults and wrongdoing. Our consistent lack of care for our earth throughout the generations has brought about a lot of negative changes. Some forms of cancer may stem from that. In many ways both directly and indirectly, we cause our own tragedies.
Yet despite all of humanity’s faults, the Lord is able to bring some good out of tragedy. After natural disasters, communities work together in beautiful ways that they couldn’t have without that common cause. Sometimes a person’s death can inspire change in others. I pray that something good comes out of Tori’s passing.
Today’s first lesson is an example of good coming out of evil. The people of Israel make a terrible mistake, yet the Lord is able to bring good out of it. We are familiar with the story of Samuel’s call to ministry. Samuel hears the Lord in the middle of the night and thinks it is his mentor, Eli. When Samuel finally answers the Lord’s call, the Lord tells him to renounce Eli’s sons for their evil deeds. 
Five chapters and almost a lifetime later, now Samuel is the old sage and now his sons are misusing their privilege. Almost as soon as Samuel sets his sons as judges over Israel, they begin to swindle money, accept bribes, and twist the law. The Israelites were sick of these judges’ perversions, and they were sick of generations of bad judges. They want a new central form of government. They want a king!
Up until this time, the Lord was considered their king. The judges handled the human squabbling, yet the Lord was the ultimate ruler over Israel. Now, this is not enough. The twelve tribes want one ruler to guide them in war against their enemy neighbors, including the Philistines.
In many ways, the Israelites’ shout for a king is a rejection of the Lord. Their faith is not strong enough to trust the Lord to care for them, even against their enemies. They don’t want to be the unique nation compared to those around them. Now they want to look just like their neighbors.
So, the Lord tells Samuel to give the people every reason why they most certainly should not want a king. Samuel explains that a king will want a standing army. Each family will have to send their sons to war and risk them not coming home. Many families - and even communities - will now have to make weapons of war instead of plowshares. 
The people want a military, though, so the threat of their children dying in war is a sacrifice they are willing to make. The Israelites did not feel safe with so many larger countries surrounding them, so they thought that an army would protect them. They were willing to do whatever a king would ask as long as the king was the first into battle.
Next, Samuel describes what he thinks is even worse than war: taxes. Samuel cries out that they will have to give the best ten percent of their crops to the king. The ten percent of their crops that they already give to the Temple is distributed to the poor, but this extra ten percent taken by the king will be given to his courtiers who are already rich. In a sense, Samuel is saying that their taxes will help the one percent get richer while they, the 99 percent, get poorer. 
But the king is entitled to more than just crops! The king also can take a family’s work animals and servants. The king has a right to claim whatever he wants, and the people won’t be able to do anything about it. Sound familiar?
Yet even the threat of taxes is not enough to deter the people. They want a king, no matter what. So, the Lord gives in and decides that Saul will be their king. As the Bible describes him, “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (1 Samuel 9:2b) 
Not only was Saul tall and handsome, he also was a competent leader. Before he is crowned king, he leads an army of Israelites against the Ammonites and wins. He proves his worth as leader of the people early and often.
The Israelites' demand for a king was a rejection of the Lord, yet the Lord was able to turn that tragedy into a triumph. Certainly, after David and Solomon, Israel and Judah would be plagued by kings who “were evil in the sight of the Lord.” 
The people would eventually face their greatest fear and be overtaken by a foreign nation. They will be sent from their holy land into a foreign place, forced to worship their Lord away from Jerusalem. Even when they eventually return to their land, they will still be under foreign rule. After the exile, the Israelites will never again have a king.
In the end, though, all of these bad kings and foreign rulers lead to the one true king, Jesus Christ. Jesus will go into battle, but his foe will not be a human enemy. Instead, Jesus will conquer death itself. We have life eternal because Jesus went before us and sacrificed himself. Jesus is the ultimate king. 
Once again, our earthly government is corrupt, but Jesus never will be. We know that we can turn to the Lord for the eternal leadership that will never fail us.
Every generation has found ways to reject the Lord. Even so, the Lord has made the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Despite all of the ways that we turn our backs on the Lord, Jesus never turns his back on us. 

We humans can be cruel and petty, yet the Lord never is. The Lord takes what we screw up and makes something good out of it. The Lord takes the tragedy of death and gives us life instead. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The Rest God Gives Us

Mark 6:30-56, Lectionary 16 B, July 19, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Consider these stories:
CPE, or Clinical Pastoral Education, is an intense time for seminary students. Over one summer, students spend long hours in a hospital visiting patients, examining family history, and analyzing experiences with classmates. CPE students are always “on.”
One of my friends completed his unit of CPE away from home and school, so he even stayed in the hospital. He once commented that his only time alone was when he was in the bathroom. It wasn’t until then that I realized that the bathroom and the car were the only places where I was alone during CPE.

This week, I learned of a children’s book called “Five Minutes’ Peace.” In it, a mother elephant named Mrs. Large wants just five minutes away from her three children. She walks into the kitchen in the morning to find it a huge mess. Then she tries to take a bath. One at a time, each of her kids pops in wanting to share something with her. For Mrs. Large, even the bathroom isn’t a silent place.
Why is it that sometimes in our lives we are so busy with work and family that we have no time to ourselves? The world never stops working. Emails and text messages come in at all times of day and night. Families have every minute of every day scheduled. From sports to dance to band, they are busy.
Some even get booked solid on vacation. Take yesterday, for example. Brett and I left my mother’s house at 8 a.m. We drove to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. We spent the entire time walking around the faire, until 5 p.m. Then we drove straight down to I-80 where we stopped at my Aunt Laurie’s house for a half hour. We visited with my Dad’s whole extended side of the family, including Skylar. Then we drove home. I wasn’t in bed until 11. We were so busy yesterday that it certainly did not feel like a vacation!
For many of us, resting can be hard work. Some of us need to schedule time alone. Sitting still for even ten minutes without a phone, TV, or other screen can be a challenge. If we are always on the go, how can we find time for God?
Jesus certainly struggled with this. His disciples have just come back from their first mission away from Jesus. They are grieving for John the Baptist. These twelve and Jesus just want to spend some time together before meeting up with the crowds. They want to share the stories of their journeys with each other, yet the crowds always seem to find them.
Jesus can never turn away from a crowd. Today’s gospel skips over the feeding of the 5,000. Then when the twelve finally escape the crowds and spend the night in a boat, the wind and waves won’t die down. That is when Jesus walks on water. When they return to dry land, crowds immediately pile up. Jesus starts this lesson by asking his disciples to come away and rest, yet they only get a few moments here and there. They sound like they need a retreat, yet they don’t get one yet.
Even for Jesus and his disciples, resting is hard work. Getting away from the crowds takes planning and ingenuity. Jesus knows that they need time to process what happened to them on their journeys. They need time to consider how God helped them along their way. They need time to pray.
And don’t we as well! It takes time to process how God is active in our lives. It takes time to see how God is working through us. The rest that we need is not necessarily time to sleep - although I certainly am going to nap this afternoon! Instead, we are challenged to find what we need to recharge and reconnect.
For some of us, that means spending time in front of the tv or video game. For others of us, it means turning all the screens off.
For some, it means cleaning and reorganizing the house. For others, it means living with the mess.
For some, staring at a lit candle. For others, having a deep conversation with a loved one. For some, getting away. For others, staying put.
Walking outside or sitting still.
Laughing or crying.
We all have different personalities that require different activities to recharge and reconnect.
By escaping the busy-ness of our lives, we might just find time to write, to color, to reflect, to pray. God is always there with us, yet we might not notice until we take the time to listen.
God once told us to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Keep it set apart. Keep it different from other days. On this Sabbath, I pray that you don't let your work consume you. What will you do this afternoon to just “be” with God?
Marilyn McEntyre recently wrote, “I do not believe it is God’s will for us to be weary. Rest is always a teacher: God is in charge, and we are not indispensable. Play is a blessing. In laughter we become like little children; in sleep we are watched over; in lingering over a meal we learn something about love we can’t learn anywhere else.”
I pray that today you do find time to rest and recharge. I pray that you find time to play and laugh. I pray that you spend valuable time with your family. I pray that you find time to realize how God loves you. Jesus says to us, “Come away…and rest a while.” Let us do so today.

Because on Monday, you are sent out again. God sends you into your work or your community to be God’s hands and feet. Recharge today so that you can get back to God’s work tomorrow! Amen.